The New Home Economics


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Newsflash

This is a real shocker: growing your own food is hard work.

After removing a whole bunch of sod, amending the soil, moving in edging, and planting 3 blueberry bushes, 2 rhubarb plants, and 10 heads of asparagus, Adam said, “I’m already burned out on gardening for this year.” And it’s not quite May yet.

It’s hard to feel super excited when all the fruits of last night’s labor are so far into the future. Everything that we planted last night will not be harvestable for at least a year (rhubarb) or 2-3 years (blueberries and asparagus). I’d post a picture but it was dark by the time we were done, plus we planted bare-root plants so there’s not much to see.


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Dried beans

We eat a lot of bean-based dishes, so even just replacing half of our canned beans with dried saves us several dollars a week.  We use Bittman‘s dried bean cooking and storage method, and have found that, when cooked, the texture and taste of beans that have been dried is much better than beans that have been canned.  You can also cut down on your sodium this way.  Here’s the method we’ve been using (this can be used for any kind of dried beans and is best done on a day when you’re around the house):

driedbeans1

1. Put a good pound or more of dried beans in good-sized stock pot with a lid and cover with cold water by 2-3 inches.

2. Bring to a boil; boil, uncovered for 2 min.

driedbeans2

3. Cover the pot, turn off the heat, and leave it soaking for 2 hours.

4. Taste a bean.  If it still has a long time to cook, add extra water so that the beans are covered by about 2 inches again.  If it tastes nearly done, add a tiny bit of extra water so that the beans are covered by about 1 inch of water.

5. Bring to a boil again, then reduce heat and simmer.  Check the beans every 15 minutes or so until they seem done.  (If you plan on using them in soups you could stop cooking when they are still a little bit under-done.)

6. Drain off a good half of the cooking liquid, then using a soup ladle, ladle your cooked beans, and a little of their liquid, into 1-2 c. portions in little containers.  Cover and freeze up to six months.  When you want to use them, thaw them out and use them exactly as you would canned beans.

driedbeans3

I think these containers were once used for frosting or jam or something, but they work really great for storing the beans.  The beans in all these pictures are adzuki beans.  We’ve also had great luck with black beans and great northern beans.  If you do cannelini you might want to undercook them a bit; otherwise the freezing and thawing will cause them to fall apart.

Once again, I can’t understate the value of How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.  This cookbook has really simplified a lot of things for me and helped give me the confidence to try things I might never have tried before.


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milk jug greenhouses: SUCCESS

I don’t know why I was so skeptical about the milk jug greenhouses.  They have succeeded well beyond my expectations, and through a week where we had everything from 38 degrees and rain to 85 degrees and super gusty wind.  My brussels sprouts seedlings, which I started inside, have now been out in the garden for one entire week.  I put in six plants with the milk jugs, and had 4 leftover seedlings so I just put those in too, partially as a “control group” and partially just in case one of the milk jugs ones died.  One week later, a comparison:

Brussel sprout plant, without any protection:
brussel-smaller

Brussel sprout plant, with a milkjug greenhouse over it for its first week outside:
brussel-bigger
Now I just have to decide when to remove the greenhouses permanently.  It will have to be soon or the plants will get too big to fit inside.  Hoping for some milder weather tomorrow (we’re back to low 40s and rainy today).

To make a milk jug greenhouse: simply cut off the bottom of a milk jug, unscrew and discard the cap, and place it over your newly-transplanted-to-the-outside-world seedling.  Leave on until the weather improves.  But watch out if it gets too hot; you may want to remove it during the hottest part of the day so you don’t fry your plant.

I will eventually have to remove those four “control group” brussels because I don’t have room for them at full size.  If they survive and seem healthy enough, I’ll try to find a neighbor or friend who wants them.


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Recipe: “Powerballs”

I found this recipe in an issue of Wondertime magazine, the only parenting magazine I really like.  It instantly became a regular feature in our house — the kids cannot get enough of these.  It’s hard to explain what they are.  Are they a no-bake cookie?  A homemade energy bar?  Whatever they are, they are delicious:

Powerballs
1 c. peanut butter
1/2-3/4 c. honey (or brown rice syrup; they will be less sweet)
3 c. old-fashioned oats
1/2 c. ground flaxseed
2 c. any combination of nuts and soft dried fruits

Stir together peanut butter and honey until smooth.  Gradually add in oats, flaxseed, and nuts/fruit.  If mixture is really crumbly, add a little bit extra honey in.  Wet your hands with a little water to minimize sticking, and roll into ping-pong size balls.  Keep in the refrigerator.  They freeze well too.

I like that these are a treat, but yet have some healthful ingredients and a “slower burn” — lower glycemic index — than standard cookies.  And they taste just like cookie dough.  Here are a couple fruit/nut combo ideas:

1 c. chopped dates / 1 c. chopped mixed nuts
1/2 c. coconut / 1/2 c. chopped dried bananas / 1/2 c. chocolate chips / 1/2 c. walnuts

I usually just use up whatever dried fruit and “stuff” we have on hand.  Dried apricots, craisins, dried apple rings, sunflower seeds, chocolate chips, etc.  Nuts could be omitted altogether.

Adam doesn’t like these to be super sweet so he uses 1/4 – 1/2 c. honey at most and just adds a little water if it’s too crumbly.


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I just don’t get it.

I was so excited about the Bittman “Vegan Before 6” article, and then I saw in the comments that someone posted a link to  The Weston A. Price Foundation philosophies of eating.

So I spent some time reading up about Mr. Price’s research and now I feel really  confused.  Mr Price and his foundation have done research that shows in fact that, among other things: eating lots high-fat meat is good for you, our diets should be based in animal proteins, soy is bad for you, and whole grain bread is bad for you, among other things.  This is why I feel like I need to take a liberal art course about nutrition — there is so much contradictory information out there.  Who is right?

Before you go out and buy a bunch of bacon, spend a couple minutes on the Weston Price Foundation website.  They don’t advocate the type of meat-eating that most Americans do; on the contrary, their diet could best be summed up in one word as paleolithic.  It’s whole foods to the extreme.  Here are their 20 Dietary Guidelines (copied from the site):

  1. Eat whole, natural foods.
  2. Eat only foods that will spoil, but eat them before they do.
  3. Eat naturally-raised meat including fish, seafood, poultry, beef, lamb, game, organ meats and eggs.
  4. Eat whole, naturally-produced milk products from pasture-fed cows, preferably raw and/or fermented, such as whole yogurt, cultured butter, whole cheeses and fresh and sour cream.
  5. Use only traditional fats and oils including butter and other animal fats, extra virgin olive oil, expeller expressed sesame and flax oil and the tropical oils-coconut and palm.
  6. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables, preferably organic, in salads and soups, or lightly steamed.
  7. Use whole grains and nuts that have been prepared by soaking, sprouting or sour leavening to neutralize phytic acid and other anti-nutrients.
  8. Include enzyme-enhanced lacto-fermented vegetables, fruits, beverages and condiments in your diet on a regular basis.
  9. Prepare homemade meat stocks from the bones of chicken, beef, lamb or fish and use liberally in soups and sauces.
  10. Use herb teas and coffee substitutes in moderation.
  11. Use filtered water for cooking and drinking.
  12. Use unrefined Celtic seasalt and a variety of herbs and spices for food interest and appetite stimulation.
  13. Make your own salad dressing using raw vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and expeller expressed flax oil.
  14. Use natural sweeteners in moderation, such as raw honey, maple syrup, dehydrated cane sugar juice and stevia powder.
  15. Use only unpasteurized wine or beer in strict moderation with meals.
  16. Cook only in stainless steel, cast iron, glass or good quality enamel.
  17. Use only natural supplements.
  18. Get plenty of sleep, exercise and natural light.
  19. Think positive thoughts and minimize stress.
  20. Practice forgiveness.

I can get behind a lot of that stuff (especially forgiveness), but some of it I find downright confusing.  What is Celtic sea salt and why is that better than normal sea salt?  How do I “sour-leaven” a grain?  What the heck is enzyme-enhanced lacto-fermentation?  Are roasted nuts out?  The thought of steamed or soaked walnuts does not appeal to me at all.

I also noticed some inconsistencies.  For example, they talk about embracing traditionally fattier meats like red meat, but then emphasize that those meats must be grass-fed/pasture-raised.  Well, grass-fed beef is naturally a much lower-fat meat its corn-fed, CAFO-raised counterpart.

Also, the primitive people that Price studied probably needed more calories to sustain them than we cubicle-dwelling moderns.  Anybody out there familiar with this diet?  Practice it?  I’d really like to see a recipe book that espouses these ideas; it would help me understand some of these principles a little better.

One guideline that I really liked was “eat only foods that will spoil” — guess that rules out Twinkies, huh?


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Vegan before 6

I could not love Mark Bittman more.  I love this concept, and I want to try it.  Go and read this article right now, then rush right back here and tell me if you’re as excited about it as I am.

I would take it one step farther and say that meat once or twice a week is plenty, but I think for a lot of people, just going down to meat once per day would be a good first step.  Anyone want to try this with me?

By the way, this hits a LOT of my categories.